Archive: March, 2005


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Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Truncated iChat status mess

iChat is a nice little application, one that I find myself using more and more each day.

It’s not without its limitations, however. For instance, it would appear that status messages get truncated at 25 characters. That can lead to some ambiguous status messages.

Take, for example, Dunstan’s cryptic note:

"Busy @ Apple: Don’t call unless you’re my bo"

Drew put two and two together and was able to reverse-engineer the message.

two similar status messages in iChat

RSS to hCalender with PHP

Following on from my low-tech solution for displaying links here on my journal, I thought I’d apply the same technique to another RSS feed.

I’m now displaying my Upcoming events in the sidebar. Seeing as this is a list of timed events, it’s the perfect candidate for the hCalendar treatment.

The transformation was pretty straightforward, although I haven’t styled the resultant XHTML in any particular way. There’s just enough information provided in the RSS feed about each event. An end date would be handy, though. I should really look into using the newly released API.

Slowly but surely, I’m beginning to pull in the small pieces of me that are scattered around the web. I’ve reigned in my links and my Upcoming events. Now I just need to reel in my Flickr photographs and the items in my Amazon wishlist.

I am developing a deep and abiding love of Web Services.

Annelie's FotoAlbum

A nice homey implementation of my JavaScript image gallery script.

Ben Hammersley: Second Sight

In the Guardian: Yahoo is the new Google. Google is the new Yahoo.

The Man Who Shot Sin City

It sounds like Robert Rodriguez is capable of bringing Frank Miller's graphic novels to life.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

Flickr Related Tag Browser

A nice use of the Flickr API.

Quote of the day

Jeff Veen hits the nail on the head with this straightforward observation:

"Typing into a text box and hitting the publish button has proven far more successful that angle brackets and FTP servers. People can say what they want, share stuff, and stay focused on communicating rather than web publishing."

I’ve had plans for some time now to clean up the CMS I built for this site and release it into the wild. If it ever gets beyond the vapourware stage, that quote will be my mantra. I may just put it on a sticky note and slap it on my screen.

If those words of wisdom weren’t help enough, Jeff also has a seven-point plan for making a better open-source CMS.

Writing, Briefly

Some great advice by Paul Graham on how to write well.

Small change

I’ve made a couple of small tweaks to my humble journal.

I’ve been using for a little while now and I’ve found it immensely useful. I thought it might be nice to share my finds here. I’ve added a list of the last five links to the sidebar here. If you’re reading these words in a newsreader, you might want to click through to see what I’m talking about.

Speaking of newsreaders, I’ve also added clearer links to my RSS feeds. The old link to the journal’s feed was kind of squirrelled away before. I’ve paired it up now with a link to my feed.

In fact, I’m using my feed to display the links in the sidebar. Rather than grappling with the API, I decided to go for a decidedly low-tech solution. I’m just parsing the RSS feed and spitting out the last five items.

At some stage, I do intend to investigate the API for but right now I’m having far too much fun playing with the Flickr API. I’ve been using it to try out the DOM functions in PHP5 and the results have been great. I’m thinking of putting together some kind of Ajax-enabled page for browsing through photos and contacts. It will probably be completely useless but I’d still like to share the results of my learning.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Rob Weychert

Rejoice! Rob has redesigned and it's a thing of beauty, semantically and visually.

Monday, March 28th, 2005


I really like the design of Absenter. It’s a photography site where the photographs take centre-stage.

Even the colour scheme is subservient to the picture. The photograph dictates what colour the navigation will take. That seems like an awful lot of work to me but there’s no doubt that it pays off. It’s a great example of letting the content inform the design.

There are some truly wonderful photography sites out there. Ephemera is a favourite of mine. Doug Bowman and Jason Kottke have also done a great job of making photo galleries.

Absenter is the work of Nazarin Hamid who works at Weightshift. The Weightshift site shares a similar aesthetic, one that I like a lot. It’s clearly influenced by good print design: dotted lines, a clear grid and excellent typography.

I’ll definitely be paying attention to Memo, the Weightshift blog.

iChat Buddy List to hCards

A handy little AppleScript by Tantek that turns your iChat buddy list into an XHTML file with an unordered list of hCards.

Friday, March 25th, 2005

SimpleBits | Belated SXSW Notes

Dan's notes on South by SouthWest. What he said.

Vashnevdesign Portfolio

A nice use of my JavaScript slideshow.

Help the Decemberists!

One of my favourite bands has had all their equipment stolen. You can help with a PayPal donation.

Galeria de imagenes en Javascript

A Spanish translation of my JavaScript Image Gallery article from A List Apart.

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

The non-typographer's guide to practical typeface selection

A great overview of typography by Cameron Moll, talented designer and super-nice guy.

I'll show you mine...

Auntie Beeb discovers Flickr

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Interesting Javascript Experiment

Based loosely on my slideshow script, here's a very cool zooming effect in JavaScript by Tyler Karaszewski.

Monday, March 21st, 2005

Where's Durstan?

It was Andy’s idea.

Churchill, FDR, Stalin and (somewhere) Durtsan

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

Going up

My latest submission to the Mirror Project does quite a job at capturing the spirit of South by SouthWest.

What's hot in Austin

Plenty of people have been writing about the contents of individual panels and presentations from South by SouthWest. I thought it might be interesting to give a broader overview and take a look at some recurring themes.

Microformats were definitely buzzworthy. Partly that’s down to the great delivery by Eric and Tantek but I also got the feeling that people liked the rootsiness of it. There isn’t a spec and there isn’t a committee. It makes for a welcome respite from the Atom/RSS debacle. Microformats have a much more calming, zen-like process of evolution.

Jason F-bomb Fried got a lot of people excited when he talked about working in small teams. I think a lot of that excitement had been building since the Building of Basecamp workshop hit the road. It’s certainly exciting to see what can be achieved with a quick, almost haphazard methodology.

That said, I’m not sure the same process can be applied to every kind of project. Basecamp, for instance, is a centralised application that is effectively a closed box. If you were writing an application and an API, you’d almost certainly want to do plenty of planning right from the start. Starting over from scratch won’t be an option once the API is out there being used.

Then there’s CSS. There’s still a lot of interest in CSS but at this stage, it’s less about evangelising the benefits and more about fine-tuning and best practices. This is a good thing. It’s heartening to see that table-based design has become very, very uncool.

Lastly, there was a lot of buzz about JavaScript. There weren’t any panels on it, but there was plenty of hallway chatter, as noticed by Molly.

Some of that is down to the “wow!” factor. When Chris Wetherell demonstrated his JavaScript version of tagging photos on Flickr during the Flash vs. HTML Gameshow, many a jaw was dropped (mine included).

There’s also a great hunger for resources on using JavaScript (and the DOM) correctly. I met a lot of people who know their semantic XHTML inside-out, are superb CSS designers, but are frustrated by a the shroud of mystery surrounding the behaviour layer.

My prediction for SXSW 2006 is that there will be at least two, but probably three, panels somehow related to JavaScript.

Saturday, March 19th, 2005

Split personality

I realised something while I was at South by SouthWest: I’m an online introvert.

I don’t have comments on my site. I rarely comment on other people’s sites. I’m terrible at responding to emails and I’m nearly always the first one to terminate IM conversations.

But in the real world, I’ll talk your ear off. Drop me into a room full of fellow geeks and I’m likely to talk incessantly.

Either I need to learn how to shut up in person or become more outgoing in the digital realm. After redoubling my enthusiasm for the web in Austin, I may attempt the latter.

Friday, March 18th, 2005


I’m back in Brighton. At least, my body is back in Brighton. I would appear to have left a good proportion of my heart in Austin, Texas.

I didn’t have much time to blog anything directly from the event. There was simply to much to do. There were the panels of course. More importantly, there were some seriously amazing people to meet.

I’ve never met so many wonderful people gathered together in one place. It was tribal in the true sense of the word (that would be the cool, fun-loving sense as opposed to the hippy-dippy sense). I think I’ll be putting together the mother of all metrolls.

Three technologies ruled over suckswuh.

The first was, naturally, WiFi. I attempted to find the right word to describe the coverage in Austin: "drenched", "bathed", "swimming", "dripping". Bruce Sterling used "marinated" in his closing remarks.

Following on from that was Rendezvous. My second iChat window went from being a lonely, provincial outpost to being Grand Central Station at rush hour. It was oodles of fun but also remarkably useful.

The third technology that achieved a tipping point in my brain was Flickr. I have become addicted to it. During the conference, I used it to keep track of what everyone had been getting up to. It was always with a sense of trepidation that I scanned the pictures in the morning, fearful of finding some evidence of the previous night’s more embarrassing moments.

I am now officially drinking the Flickr kool-aid. And I don’t mean one of those wimpy free accounts either. It’s "pro" all the way for me.

I’ve put up some of my photos here in the walled garden that is adactio. I’ve put more of my photos up in the open, sharing, downright utopian environment of Flickr. My next step will be investigating the API and subjugating it to my will.

These technologies were cool but it was the people that made the time so special. The combined might of WiFi, Rendezvous and Flickr were as nought when compared to the awesome power of so much wetware gathered together in meatspace at one time.

I stupidly didn’t bring any business cards with me which was rather unfortunate as I definitely don’t want to lose touch with people. Please, please, please download my vcard and keep in touch.

Now, with all the sleep deprivation and jet lag catching up with me, I simply must crash. To sleep, perchance to dream sweet dreams of Texas.

Monday, March 14th, 2005

And then, this one time at geek camp...

I’m having an absolute ball here at SXSW. By day, I’m filling up my brain with incredibly useful information and ideas. By night, I’m meeting great people and generally having a fun time.

Yesterday’s speaker schedule had a great one-two punch by Eric and Tantek. They were both talking about microformats and XHTML. It really got my creative juices flowing. In fact, when I should have been paying more attention to a panel called "Building your brand with blogs", I was quickly knocking together a little DOM script to create a Met-roll on the fly.

There’s a lot of creative energy flying around and there’s one point that keeps coming across in all the panels, no matter how technical the subject matter, which is: "it’s all about people". At the end of the CSS panel called "How to be beautiful: more hi-fi design with CSS", Doug related a very powerful and touching story that really drove the point home.

I thought I knew what to expect from this conference but I was wrong. It’s exceeding all my expectations.

The only down-side is that Jessica isn’t here. Still, she was able to vicariously share the geekiness via iSight. Everyone waved hello from Austin to Arizona.

Sunday, March 13th, 2005

Trial by fire

‘Tis done. Andy and I delivered our banter to a room full of unsuspecting South by SouthWest attendees yesterday. You can look through the slides if you like.

I’m quite pleased with how it went. We got some laughs which was our main aim. Apart from dropping my bluetooth connection to Salling Clicker, everything went pretty smoothly.

Once the talk was over, I was able to relax a bit more and really let my hair down. The opening party by Frog Design was a heady mixture of live music, free beer, scantily clad dancing girls and sword swallowers… it was as if the dot com bubble never burst.

The festival is well underway now and I’m probably going to spend most of the time running around like a headless chicken trying to get to all the panels I want to see, which is a physical impossibility unless I clone myself.

Gotta run…

Friday, March 11th, 2005

Austin update

I’ve arrived in Austin. The South by SouthWest festival hasn’t started yet and I’m already having a great time meeting some wonderful people.

Andy has already chronicled our transatlantic journey (which was mercifully uneventful) as well as our first evening’s exploration of Austin’s nightlife.

Today, we’ve been registering for the festival and gathering the Brit pack together. After some misadventures along the way, Jon and Andy have made it here.

If you’re here in Austin and you’d like to meet up, get in touch. I’ll be wandering the corridors during the day and sampling the local brews once the sun goes down.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2005

Perfect timing

Just in time for South by SouthWest, the Washington post has published an article called “Texas Eat ‘Em” about barbecue in the Lone Star State:

“But what defines Texas barbecue is beef. And the king of the plate is smoked brisket - usually unsauced. That’s a characteristic specific to central Texas barbecue - its aversion to sauce. They’ll serve it (usually). But invariably on the side. Sauce, the pitman will tell you, is just used to cover up inferior barbecue.”

Equally handy, here’s the unofficial geek guide to getting over yourself at SxSW Interactive 2005.

It even looks like the weather is going to behave for the duration of the festival.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

Obligatory SxSW blather

The RSS-o-sphere is fairly humming with postings from bloggers announcing their imminent departure for Austin, Texas. Who am I to buck the trend?

I’ll be catching a flight out of Gatwick on Thursday morning. Andy, Richard and Dunstan will be on the same ‘plane, forming the vanguard of the British invasion.

Once I get there, I’m planing to attend as many panels as is humanly possible without cloning myself, introduce myself to many people I only know virtually and, most importantly of all, enjoy some good ol’ Texas barbecue.

If you’re going to be at South by SouthWest, let me know. I’m hoping that my mobile phone will work over there (here’s my vcard if you want to call me). Fortunately, I hear that Austin is fairly swimming in WiFi so you can also iChat me or Skype me (can we use skype as a verb yet?).

Unfortunately, I won’t be sticking around for the music portion of the festival. It sounds like there are going to be some great bands playing. I downloaded the excellent, if somewhat large, SxSW showcase for my iPod. It integrates really nicely with a schedule that you can drop into the notes folder.

It’s probably the second coolest download for an iPod that I’ve come across. The first would have to be the podcasted commentary by the producer of Battlestar Galactica, designed to be synchronised with the television broadcast (if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to watch the first episode, streamed in its entirety on the website).

I’ve also got my iPod loaded up with a complete schedule of the interactive portion of South by SouthWest, courtesy of Jeremy Flint.

Speaking of cool things to do with your iPod, remember all the fuss about the iPodDownload programme which could transfer songs from an iPod to a computer directly from iTunes? The Apple lawyers were very quick to knock it on the head and subsequent releases of iTunes disabled the plug-in.

Well, it turns out that you can achieve the exact same results using a clever little AppleScript. Who knew?

On procrastination

The other day, Jessica said:

“I made a resolution not to put off ‘till later what I can do now.”

To which I responded:

“Yeah. I need to make a resolution like that sometime.”

Progressive enhancement with Ajax

The excitement over Ajax shows no signs of dying down anytime soon. The Man In Blue has weighed in with his thoughts on the matter:

“It would be nice if Google Maps were accessible by non-JavaScript enabled user agents, but in practice this must be weighed up against market forces - is an acceptable proportion of your target market likely to have JavaScript enabled, or is your service so useful that people will go out of their way to acquire JavaScript capabilities to use it?”

This is where I feel that Google and others are approaching the whole issue of Ajax (and JavaScript in general) in a back-asswards manner.

To me, it makes sense to first build your application using old-fashioned server-side technology to do all the work with old-fashioned page refreshes to display updated information. Once you’ve got that built, you can then apply JavaScript to make a better, richer, more usable application. By intercepting the default actions with JavaScript and replacing them with XMLHttpRequest calls, you can add a lovely layer of instant interaction. But, and this is the kicker, you know that your smooth, slick application will degrade gracefully in browsers that don’t support JavaScript.

It’s called progressive enhancement and it’s how we should all be building our web applications. The concept forms the basis of applying CSS correctly. Ideally, we should be following through on this idea whenever we decide to wield the scalpel of JavaScript.

For example, I love the way the JavaScript on the Panic shop works but if the principle of progressive enhancement had been applied in the planning of the shopping cart, it would degrade gracefully for shoppers without JavaScript.

I’ve heard all the arguments about market forces and browser statistics informing a “JavaScript only, please” decision on building web apps but they make little sense to me. With a little bit of forethought, you can build an application that can be used by everybody whilst giving the majority an enhanced experience.

Think about it: you have to build all the server-side logic anyway so why not it build it in such a way that it can be used equally well by a refreshing web page as by a call via XMLHttpRequest?

That was the way I went about adding the recent enhancements to The Session. I made sure that the server-side functions responsible for executing searches and returning results were abstracted enough so that they could be re-used easily by an Ajax script. If you wanted to follow this process of abstraction to its logical conclusion, then I guess you could have all data returned as XML. Then you could build your regular website, add a nice layer of Ajax enhancements and provide an API for web services as nice little bonus.

To develop directly for Ajax might seem to save time and costs but ultimately, it will work out a lot more time consuming in the long run if you ever decide to build a non-JavaScript version.

Ajax is an interesting technology. It straddles the worlds of client-side and server-side scripting, a combination reminiscent of Kipling’s poem:

“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”

To use this technology correctly, developers need to understand both worlds. The concept of progressive enhancement is probably a new one to server-side programmers while the idea of data abstraction may be new to client-side developers.

Which reminds me…

If PHP is your server-side language of choice, the future is looking quite rosy thanks to a helping hand from IBM:

“IBM is putting its corporate heft behind a popular open-source Web development technology called PHP, in a move meant to reach out to a broader set of developers.”